"As a parent, I am plagued with guilt about how this happened to my child and why I can’t stop it."

I grew up in Northeast Philly in a predominately middle class Jewish neighborhood. After finishing up school, I got married and had a son and a daughter; Joey and Hana. Their father was having a lot of issues with drugs when they were young, and as a result we separated. I still talk with him from time and am close with his family. After my husband left the home, my son Joey would often sit by the window waiting for him to come home, which broke my heart to see. After the separation, I got an accounting degree, remarried, and started up a business with my new husband. Our business is doing well today.

My son Joey was diagnosed with ADD and had problems in school. He was prescribed medications to treat these symptoms, and I began researching other resources available to help him. We decided to move to Bensalem Township out of the city because I was told we would be able to get better help for his needs.  We moved when Joey was in 8th grade.  His first friend in the neighborhood introduced him to smoking marijuana and that was the start of his drug use.

He started in Bensalem High School and eventually was accepted into the Bucks County Technical High School.  He started falling in with a bad group of kids. He started stealing and doing drugs with his friends, often getting in trouble with the school and the police.

He ended up getting expelled from the technical school and went back to Bensalem High School. He took extra classes and passed all of them for graduation, only to be told his PSSA tests were below average and he could not graduate on time.

I was on the school board at the time and felt sad that I’d be handing out diplomas, but wouldn’t be able to hand one to my son.

I thought his drug use was a phase and he would grow out of it eventually. I found out this was not the case when the police raided my home, apparently at the time he was selling marijuana. They also found a pill bottle with a tiny amount of marijuana that my husband had confiscated, in my room. Because of this, they charged my husband and I with possession. The whole situation was incredibly embarrassing; I was a school board member, a liaison to the Drug and Alcohol Board in the township, a member of the Bensalem Kiwanis Club, and spent a lot of time volunteering in my community.  The whole ordeal was so painful, not only because I was dealing with my son’s drug problem, but also because I had to hire legal counsel for myself and my husband.  Because I was on the school board, the situation was exacerbated by being reported on the news.  I ended up under a doctor’s care just to handle the trauma I was undergoing, and ended up needing medication.  Joey went through the normal channels in the county, probation and drug classes. It appeared that there were so many kids doing the same thing, with no real care and options to help keep them off drugs.

Joey’s use escalated from there, and he was buying and using opioid pills. My stepchildren knew he was using pills, but never told my husband and I, because they thought they could work it out with my son before we discovered it. When Joey’s ex-girlfriend found out from our step-children, she contacted my daughter. My daughter was attending college in Arizona and called me crying, saying that Joey was doing heroin.

My husband and I decided to get Joey into a drug rehab immediately.  When he was released, we tried to isolate him at home so that he would not be influenced by the negative people in his life and he could work on staying clean. After a few months at home and regular meetings, we allowed him to have his car back to look for work. Unfortunately he misused this minimal amount of freedom and he began using again.  Joey got into numerous car accidents and was excused from work because he was “nodding off” so often. We were eventually able to get him into a rehab facility again, but he left after only two weeks.

After leaving he tried to get money out of his bank account, but didn’t have his ID and called his ex-girlfriend to bring it to him. His ex-girlfriend informed me of this, and I decided to confront him at the bank. When I got there, he pushed me and ran away. The police were called by the bank, and I asked the officer if he could find and hold Joey. The officer was hesitant to help in the beginning, but later said he’d see what he could do; he was experiencing a similar situation in his family. I got a call back that Joey had been detained and was willing to go home with me.

When I arrived he got into the car, but later jumped out while we were heading home. He eventually came back home, took the car, and left before everyone came home. Someone eventually called the police on him when they thought he had overdosed in his car; he was parked right outside our home. The police found him, woke him up, and arrested him. In the car they found numerous needles and some methamphetamine. He was taken to the police station, was charged, and then let out.

We took his car and parked it outside of our business.  He came to our business and stole the car again with the spare set of keys that he knew I had. I called him and told him to come back with the car, but he didn’t respond. A few nights went by where we couldn’t find him and were clueless about his whereabouts. Joey eventually came back home but was still in bad shape. We had an argument that ended with him threatening to commit suicide by overdosing. I was out of ideas on how to handle it all and decided to have him committed for a psych evaluation. I submitted the 302 paperwork and contacted the police to come pick Joey up before he could leave. When he got to the mental hospital, he refused to sign himself in and as a result there was a mental health hearing. His biological father and I were able to prove that Joey was indeed a danger to himself and as a result he was committed. He was supposed to be evaluated for ten days, but he got out only a couple days later. I learned that he was released after threatening legal action against the hospital, because he thought they were releasing information to me.

I let him live in the car that was in my name because I didn’t know what else to do; I couldn’t let him back in the house. As the tensions and frustrations continued to build, I got into an argument with my husband as to whether Joey could come home for Thanksgiving. I was so hurt, confused, and possibly a bit in denial; I stood my ground and  told my husband  that Joey was my son and that he would be coming home for Thanksgiving. Although my husband had truly mixed feelings, he supported my request.  We let him come early so he could shower and change. It was at this point that we informed everyone in the family what was going on. My sister-in-law wanted to take Joey in, and she desperately wanted to help him. She took him in for two months. We all got together for my daughter and Joey’s daughters’ birthdays. While we were eating dinner, Joey began to nod off while holding his daughter; my mother began crying. That’s when we all decided that Joey had to go to rehab again.

Joey’s substance use disorder has not just affected him, but our entire family. I’ve had family members call to tell me that Joey isn’t welcome in their home because they don’t want to have to hide their medications.  I’ve had numerous arguments with my husband that almost ended our marriage. My daughter began having nightmares of Joey overdosing and moved back home from Arizona so she can be close in case something happened.  As a parent, I am plagued with guilt about how this happened to my child and why I can’t stop it. Something that has really helped me through all of this is the ”Mom’s Squad,” a social support group for mothers of substance addicted children. It’s difficult to talk about these things or ask for advice from people who haven’t dealt with opioid abuse.  It has been extremely helpful for me to speak with other mothers who are dealing with the same heart-wrenching issues. I’ve realized at this point that a large amount of the situation is out of my hands, and I have to let Joey figure it out for himself. I’m just accustomed to helping him through everything, and I’ve learned that I need to take a step back and let him take responsibility; I can’t enable him anymore.

This is why I’m sharing my opioid story, so that other parents can learn from my experiences. Watch everything your kids do and know who their friends are. Know and understand that if your child is using, they will manipulate and lie to you. This is so important, let me say this again. Know and understand that if your child is using, they will manipulate and lie to you. If you notice something is wrong, get them help as early as possible; not just with drugs, but school and everything else. Frankly, there should be better treatment options for families facing this. So much red tape and limited options only add to the desperation that a family or loved ones feels while trying to get help for their loved one facing this horrible addiction.

We need to be vigilant. There has to be safeguards in place to make sure others don’t go down the path Joey went. It would be better if initially these troubled children (and adults) are not treated as criminals, but as people with behavioral disorders and drug dependence, so that their disorder doesn’t spiral out of control like it did for Joey. We as a society would be better from displaying more compassion and understanding instead of labeling and disdain. I hope my story helps to make a difference for at least one person or for one family.

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